The in-use performance and processing of many consumer products in the food, home and personal care industries are dependent on their tribological properties. A major component of these products is often a high molecular weight polymer, which is typically used to thicken aqueous systems. Polymer solutions tend to be non-Newtonian, and in particular their viscosity varies with shear rate, such that it is difficult to predict their friction or hydrodynamic film-forming behaviour. The present work relates the tribology of aqueous polymer solutions to their rheological properties in thin films in ‘soft’ contacts at high shear rates. The friction properties of three types of polymers in aqueous solution, polyethylene oxide, PEO; xanthan gum, XG; and guar gum, GG, have been studied as a function of polymer concentration over a wide range of entrainment speeds in a point contact formed between silicone rubber and steel. This has enabled the boundary lubrication and isoviscous-elastic lubrication properties of the solutions to be investigated using both hydrophilic and hydrophobic silicone surfaces.
It is found that the friction vs. entrainment speed dependence follows the shape of a classical Stribeck curve. In general, a lower friction is observed with increasing polymer concentration in the mixed-regime. Using scaling factors for the entrainment speed, we have shown that this decrease in friction is likely to be due to viscous effects and that the scaling factors represent effective high shear rate viscosities. In the case of PEO and XG, and GG at low concentrations, a good correlation is found between this effective viscosity and the apparent viscosity measured at the highest shear rates attainable with the available rheometer. However, for GG at concentrations above 0.2%, the effective viscosity decreases with increasing polymer content.
The three polymers do not significantly reduce friction in the boundary regime and in general give essentially the same response as water when an effective viscosity is taken into account. However, a slight increase in friction in comparison to pure water has been observed for XG and GG on hydrophobic surfaces. It is suspected that this may be due to a blocking of fluid entrainment, or possibly exclusion of polymer from the contact, due to the large hydrodynamic volume and rigid nature of the two biopolymers. Finally, for PEO solutions with full-film elastohydrodynamic conditions were reached, the measured friction coefficient of the film correlated quite well with the value calculated from the effective viscosity.
Keywords: Tribology, Lubrication, Soft contacts, Polymer solutions, Isoviscous-elastic, Soft EHD